Three Days in Charleston South Carolina (and more than three cocktails) barely scratches the surface of what you can experience in this lively historic city. Charleston is undeniably a city of history. It is evident upon driving, walking or horse-carriaging around the city. Dig a little deeper and the Civil War with its many battles and challenges are embedded in the tale of the city. Here are some of the ways to enjoy 3 days in Charleston.
The city of Charleston is in its renaissance, one of many in the past centuries, and it is glorious. The proud and ornate homes remain but they are just one part of the historical landscape. Restaurants, charming inns and glamorous hotels as well as creative shops and galleries populate today's Charleston.
Charleston is a great combination of young and old, both the structures and the population. Creative types abound, art is everywhere and history remains intact thanks to strict building and renovation codes. The city is outright jaw-dropping.
3 Days in Charleston: Day 1
It is best to get an overview of Charleston right away. After a great stay at The Hyatt House and their fabulous made-to-order breakfast, head straight to Palmetto Carriage Works Horse-Drawn Carriage Tour. Your guide can be comical and endearing when imparting a wealth of historical knowledge all while controlling his team.
It is the best way to get a solid overview of the city and her history. The carriages take one of five routes that are assigned to keep carriage traffic under control.
Take time to delve into the history and architecture of Old Charleston. Be sure to check out the ornamental earthquake bolts in old homes. These were installed after the major quake in 1886 destroyed thousands of buildings and killed 60 residents.
Next, head to the famous and popular Poogan’s Porch and your first of Charleston’s signature cocktails, the Mint Julep. Dine on Southern fare like she crab soup, fried green tomatoes, and roasted duck pirloo.
After lunch, head to the Gibbs Museum for an immersion into Charleston and Southern art, both old and new. The Gibbs Museum is one of those pleasant and comprehensive museums that you can visit in an hour. It gives you a chance to get to know artists like explorer and scientist Mark Catesby, who catalogued the birds and wildlife he found in this area of South Carolina. You might also enjoy the complete opposite in the contemporary exhibit Out of the Wild: Animals in Art.
Shop along King Street where you find a healthy mix of upscale chain retail boutiques, local artisans and small businesses. The second Sunday of the month, King Street closes off the street, brings in bands, food trucks and entertainment and locals and tourists alike mingle and shop.
At this point, heading to Hall’s Chophouse for a snack of steak nachos is a good choice. You can refresh with Hall's signature 434 cocktail, which is a house-made pineapple-infused vodka shaken with ice and poured in a martini glass. Or try The Hefner, a blend of Hendricks Gin, St. Germain, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and bubbles, before heading back to the Hyatt for a respite from the steamy heat.
Hyatt House and Hyatt Place are located conveniently on King Street and serve as a welcoming home base for all Charleston activities. In addition to the breakfast, the bar has a light menu every evening including a happy hour. Excellent conference facilities adjoin the hotel and they are completing a rooftop bar, a trendy accessory throughout Charleston.
3 Days in Charleston: Day 2
Get up early today and walk Charleston. Start at 6 a.m. from the Hyatt House and head straight down King Street while it is quiet. Make note of how the current businesses have incorporated the original town architecture and signage into modern Charleston. Pass the theater and its bright “Welcome to Charleston” sign and wander past the antique stores and the “Tellis Pharmacy” with its original sign that is now a design store.
The classic Ben Silver clock shop is here on King Street but has other outlets in the city as well.
During your 3 days in Charleston, take lots of photos. Not a difficult task around the area known as The Battery along Charleston Harbor, as you find iron work, architectural details, gardens and oddities wherever you look. Massive porches and lanais are everywhere in Charleston and always positioned to take advantage of the sea breezes.
For breakfast, head back up King Street and stop at Virginia’s on King for some true Southern biscuits and gravy or shrimp and grits. Virginia Bennett is the matriarch of an old Charleston family. Her family cooking became so well-known she had to move it out of the house and into a restaurant. Next door on Marion Square, the ultra-luxurious Hotel Bennett is rising proudly over the Charleston skyline. Hotel Bennett promises to be a true destination hotel with a rooftop pool and restaurant, state-of-the-art spa and wedding facilities. Completion is projected for mid-2018.
Consider seeing some historic Charleston homes where a history buff can see the renovation of a home to its true splendor at the Nathaniel Russell House or a home that has been preserved intact at the Aiken-Rhett House. Both are outstanding examples of a way of life around the time of Charleston’s founding.
Lunch at 5Church Charleston is the way to go if seeking a cool corner of the city. A true converted church that has had many lives since its last congregation, 5Church’s ceiling vaults to the heavens and the entire ceiling was hand-painted by local artist Jon Norris with the words of the 2500 year old strategic military manuscript, Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Have a signature Viper or Final Confession cocktail or splurge on a bottle of Jordan Chardonnay from the bar that stretches the entire wall and up to the ceiling.
In the afternoon, a sail on Schooner Pride is the perfect way to see Charleston from her harbor and hear more history of the Civil War battles that took place there. A more in-depth exploration of Charleston’s maritime and military history can be found at Patriot’s Point.
If sailing or military history is not your focus, head for major relaxation and one of the best facials of your life at the Spa at Belmond Charleston Place. An elegant hotel with every amenity located in the prime part of King Street, the Spa and its calming relaxation areas are a welcome respite from the summer heat of the city. With rooftop pool access and attentive estheticians, this Spa is the perfect afternoon alternative.
The best part of already being relaxed at The Belmond Charleston is that one of the best bars and wine lists is a few floors down. A Pink Hummingbird—St. Germain, Sparkling Rosé, Campari—at The Thoroughbred Club is a refreshing end to the afternoon, or splurge on a bottle of LIOCO “Hirsch Vineyard” Pinot Noir from one of the best Pinot vineyards on the Sonoma Coast.
Walk leisurely to The Ordinary, one of the best restaurants in the city, where they specialize in supporting local crabbers, oystermen, farmers and producers. A well-priced bottle of Wind Gap Trousseau Gris from the emerging Petaluma Gap area of the Russian River Valley will pair perfectly with a double shellfish tower of raw and cooked totally local seafood.
3 Days in Charleston: Day 3
As you enjoy a last made-to-order omelette at the Hyatt House and check out of the hotel, plan to immerse yourself in one last day of Charleston charm.
Head straight to Fort Sumter before the heat of the day catches you. This national park is accessible only by boat and, although free to visitors, tickets to boat concessionaires are necessary if not arriving by private boat. Considered to be where the American Civil War began, April 12, 186, marks the date when Confederate forces took the Fort from the Union in a 34-hour battle. Union forces tried for four years to take it back as Charleston defended her harbor.
Next, visit Middleton Place and its gardens which have earned the designation a National Historic Landmark. The Garden Club of America has called the plantation’s 65 acres “the most important and most interesting gardens in America.”
From centuries-old Camellia trees to the organic vegetable gardens, the House Museum dating from 1755 and the Stableyards where blacksmithing and indigo dying are still practiced, there is something for everyone at Middleton Place. In early summer, the Spoleto Festival attracts Charleston residents and visitors alike for a two-week-long celebration of music sponsored by Wells Fargo. Closing night always features several local bands followed by a nationally popular band, such as The Revivalists from New Orleans.
Our 3 days in Charleston immersion barely scratched the surface of sights, sounds, food and drink that make this city one of the top tourist destinations worldwide. Charleston has enough variety to keep a visitor busy for weeks. It is not unheard of to visit and then begin looking at real estate. If the history and architecture bring you to Charleston, the charm and southern hospitality will keep you coming back for more.
For more information on how to plan an enjoyable 3 days in Charleston, check out the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau website.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with tours, accommodations and some meals for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.